I was both pleased and pained a few weeks ago to read an article on how the Connecticut Bar Association has voted to create positions in its House of Delegates for representatives of minority bars. I think this is an important step in getting more diversity into the association, which is a great thing. I was pained that one member of the membership committee was quoted as saying that some folks think the leadership of the CBA is too old, too white and too male. The truth hurts.
The CBA has a proud heritage as the voice of the organized bar in Connecticut. We in the land of steady habits are one of a very few states with what is called a "voluntary" bar. In many states, the bar and the bench are all part of the same governmental agency. That has both good and bad aspects.
The good part of a combined bar is that everyone is in the tent. There are savings of scale and resources. For example, the CBA spends a lot of money every year maintaining a registration and membership system. So does the Judicial Branch. In combined bar states, these functions are merged. The CBA publishes a great register of attorneys. So does the Judicial Branch.
Combining the bar and the Judicial Branch oversight of lawyers also goes a long way towards simplifying things for the public. Many discipline complaints first go to the CBA because the public thinks that they are the "bar" where you complain. I used to explain to callers that the CBA was the "big B" bar and the Judicial Branch was the "little b" operation. Few understood the distinction.
The advantage of our voluntary bar is that it is independent from judicial administration. While CBA and Judicial work together more often than not, in the past the CBA has taken positions critical of Judicial Branch initiatives. That is a good thing. Lawyers ought to have a voice on things that affect their lives and livelihoods without fear that they will draw disfavor from judges for speaking out.
Another advantage is that the CBA is not wed to the state’s endless budget woes. Yes, it has its own fiscal challenges, but CBA staff and membership do not have to hold their collective breath every year when the governor’s budget is announced, waiting to see if they will have any money for their program this year. In the past, states such as California actually shut the bar down for a year or more in times of fiscal crisis. Not good.
Of course, with independence comes responsibility. The CBA needs to strive to attract lawyers from all practice areas, from all parts of the state and from all communities, be they racial, ethnic or affinity. That has always been a challenge and never more so than now.
Membership in what I call "big tent" groups is less obviously beneficial to lawyers who see that smaller, nimbler and more "issue-focused" groups can often deliver more bang for the buck. The perception is that limited dues dollars go further towards their causes in such groups. Also, my sense is that many young folks are serious about the "work-life balance" stuff and are not excited about spending several nights a month at bar functions.
The CBA Young Lawyers’ Section is an example of how things can be done right. They have striven, quite successfully, to make their program relevant to new attorneys, have labored to provide lots of inexpensive and focused CLE in areas important to those new to the vineyards, and have really invigorated the organization. In recognition of this, they were given a House of Delegates slot some years ago. Ralph Monaco, past president of the CBA, came from the ranks of the YLS.
If the CBA can attract lawyers from traditionally under-represented communities, it can broaden its appeal and be even more representative of the "every lawyer" ideal. It will take work, but it can be done.
I was very pleased to see Ndidi Moses, a former student of mine, on the cover of the Trib regarding the CBA’s diversity initiative. Ndidi means "patience" in Igbo, one of the many languages of the African diaspora. With young folks such as her in the CBA and represented in the House of Delegates, our bar will only get better.
Mark DuBois, the former chief disciplinary counsel for Connecticut, is now an attorney at the New London firm of Geraghty & Bonnano.